The world is full of problems. Serious problems: poverty, crime, injustice, corruption, disease, violence, bigotry, terrorism, and on and on. It always has been. And it is natural for people to want to fix all the problems– or at least all of the problems that affect them personally. But people also disagree about how the problems ought to be fixed.
Society is complex and fixing one problem often causes other, unintended problems. So many of the solutions people want are really just an exchange of one set of problems for another set. And the set of problems you are willing to accept in exchange for fixing your current problems is often not the same set that your neighbor is willing to accept.
The devil you don’t have to deal with yet sometimes seems more bearable than the devil that vexes you now– even if they are both devils.
I thought it was widely understood in American politics that there are some problems that we don’t want the government to solve for us because it would require giving the government a dangerous amount of power over our lives, and our liberty, and our property.
It used to be common knowledge that a major reason Socialism is bad is not because alleviating poverty isn’t desirable, but because it can only be accomplished by giving the government enough power to force economic equality– and a government with that much power will inevitably attract people who will eventually use that power to impose their own agendas on everyone else.
The provisions of the U.S. Constitution were designed to limit and distribute the power of government to protect against this very thing.
Prudence admonishes us that it is often better to tolerate the devils that vex us rather than opening the door to the huge, ravenous demon knocking at the door and promising to come in and devour our devils for us. He is certainly capable of eating up all of our devils in short order. But what happens when he is finished and he is still hungry?
But this doesn’t seem to be a common concern anymore. Maybe it never was widely understood.
In today’s political discourse, I don’t see many people concerned about the Constitution or government power anymore. I see a lot of people who just want the problems fixed; who are sick and tired of those who oppose them; who are fed up with gridlock; who want comprehensive, sweeping change, instead of incremental, piecemeal improvements; and who are no longer interested in trying to persuade and change the minds of those who disagree with them. They want the problems fixed and they want it done NOW!
They seem to have no qualms about circumventing constitutional limits or giving the government more power because they are so sure of the righteousness of what they are trying to accomplish. They are fixing the problems! And anyone who stands in their way is stupid or evil because they clearly don’t want the problems fixed!
But of course if those with whom they disagree are in power, they will cry foul at anything that can be construed as unconstitutional and characterize them as dictators and tyrants. But they don’t really believe in the Constitution– it’s just a useful rhetorical cudgel to use against people who have the “wrong” ideas. And once the “right” people are in power, their constitutional concerns are packed away and forgotten. Because they are not tyrants and dictators; they are fixing the problems.
But they aren’t just fixing the problems. They are exchanging the problems for a different set. And eventually we will reap what we have sown.
And just because the benevolent tyrant currently in office uses government power in ways with which you agree, doesn’t mean that the next one will, or the one after that. It is better to withhold power from the people you support so that the same power will be unavailable to successors who you may not.
When the principles of the Constitution and the reasons for its structure are no longer understood and have ceased to be the common currency and concern of our political discussions and campaigns, we will have become a post-constitutional nation. Maybe we already have.
Heaven help us.